Arts is originally related to art and as such refers to a skill and to creativity. In antiquity and in medieval European universities seven artes were considered important: grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy. From the 18th and 19th centuries on – the period of Romanticism and upcoming bourgeois society - the artist, the one who makes art, was regarded as someone with a special talent and authentic character.

Arts and artefacts

The artist as painter, writer or musician was not only an artisan, craftsman and skilled worker but also a genius who could create some unique artefact (cf. Raymond Williams in Keywords). From that moment on, art objects were taken as aesthetically interesting, due to the fact that artefacts present a specific and subjective perspective based on experience and personality. For arts, you needed a public as well: mostly educated critical citizens (burghers). In the mediatised and digitilised 21st century, however, the question is if the bourgeois type of recipients still exists. Positions of producer and consumer of art are more intertwined.

Some artists are more talented than others. Some are valuated as more important than others. William Shakespeare, Vincent Van Gogh, Emily Dickinson are artists of great renown due to their specific styles, ideas and obsessions. (Shakespeare’s ludicrous language constructions, Van Gogh’s clear colour, Dickinson’s silences and dashes.) The challenge for artists is that they break with the tradition and invent something new. The representation of reality in an art work implies an original and to a certain extent autonomous perspective. The real artist succeeds in looking at the world with different eyes.

Art equals beauty?

Art is for many people connected to beauty, and beauty often means proportion and harmony as something within the scope of human control (Knåusgard 2018). But art can be the opposite of beauty as well, in that it can alienate, disrupt and shock. Art can be horror and violence – as in the texts of Marquis de Sade, in the drawings of Francisco Goya, in the painted mutilations of Francis Bacon – and as such stir emotions that bring us (the readers, the watchers, the recipients) beyond ourselves. Art confronts us with the question ‘what do we actually know?’, and it is this question that is for both scholars and students fundamental.


Williams, Raymond (1985 [1976]). Keywords, A Vocabulary of Culture and Society, revised edition. New York: Oxford University Press.

Karl Ove Knåusgard (2018), The End, translated by Martin Aitken and Din Bartlett, Harvill Secker.